Escape from Warsaw


Escape from Warsaw is set in Poland in 1942 where “on a cold, dark night…the Balicki children watch in horror as Nazi Storm Troopers arrest their mother.  Now they are alone.”

Without perseverance, initiative, leadership and problem solving skills, the Balicki children depicted in Serrailliers’s true World War II story wouldn’t have survived to escape from Warsaw.  Like many families of that era, the children had become separated from their parents and are forced to call upon their own skills and the kindness of strangers in an attempt to reunite with their parents.

Joseph Balicki, the father of Ruth, Bronia and Edek had escaped from a concentration camp and returned to Warsaw frantically searching for his children. There he befriended a young man named Jan, who promised to look out for his children while Joseph made his way to Switzerland to reunite with his wife.  Jan was a very clever youth who had developed exceptional survival techniques.  Shortly after Joseph Balicki leaves Warsaw, Jan meets the Balicki children.  Bronia, the youngest child grew during the story to have a pronounced personality while speaking her mind.  Edek was the middle child who was genuinely creative with his hands, and built a shelter for the family when they were traveling.  Ruth, the oldest child taught stray children who were just trying to survive, how to read and write.

Throughout the story, the four children developed strong relationships with people who were overly familiar with refugees and their challenges, but nevertheless helped them survive their journey.  While Ruth and Bronia were by themselves, there was a kind man named Ivan who supplied them with pens and paper for Ruth’s school as well as shoes for their journey to Switzerland.  When they were in Germany, they met a farmer and his wife who endangered their own lives to keep the children safe. The farmer recognized that it was unsafe to have the children remain at the farm or take them out via the road settled on a dangerous plan to have them use old canvas canoes to sneak across the river.  “He did not tell them just how tricky the rapids were, and that it was a long time before he had allowed his boys to tackle them unaccompanied.  Nor did he drop a hint of his other fear.  The canoes were years old. Would they still hold the water out?”

Although Jan’s background remained a mystery throughout the book, I enjoyed imagining his past and conjuring his future.  I loved the suspense throughout the story because Serraillier left a few loose ends at the end of each chapter.  Serraillier’s way of incorporating WWII history into an engaging story full of mystery and bravery was a cunning way to inform teens about what happened before their era.  I found it fascinating to consider how people like these characters survived during WWII.  The inspiring characters in the book made me want to hurry to the conclusion of the book to find out if the family was reunited.

Author: Ian Serraillier

Genre: Historical Fiction